Often we tend to be so focused on planning the perfect trip that we forget to prepare ourselves for if something goes wrong. Nobody wants to think about it, but you never know what will happen while you are traveling in another country. We created this guide of what to do during natural disasters in Costa Rica to help you all be prepared, just in case!
Natural Disasters in Costa Rica – Our Experiences
We decided to write this post because we’ve had a few travel crises recently here in Costa Rica that made us realize, although we are familiar with this country, you all are not. Dealing with the natural disasters we dealt with would be terrifying for someone who was not prepared and was not familiar with Costa Rica.
We recently got stuck on the other side of the country during Tropical Storm Nate and spent two days trying to get home. It was scary for us and we met a lot of you wonderful travelers who were even more terrified and had no idea what to do. You can read all about our experience here.
Our other recent crisis was a 6.8 earthquake. Luckily, it seems everyone in the country was fine, but it was still scary to experience and you never know when there is going to be a more severe quake.
I’m not saying this to scare you because I learned long ago that crazy things can happen no matter where you are. I’m saying this so you can be a bit more prepared and confident if a natural disaster occurs during your travels in Costa Rica.
Anyway, on to the rest of the guide to natural disasters in Costa Rica!
Natural Disasters in Costa Rica – Pre Planning
Although you never know what is going to happen, there are a few steps you can take before your travels to prepare yourself.
- Register for STEP
If you are a US citizen, you should definitely register with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) before traveling. This allows the US government to notify you regarding potential security threats in the area you are visiting, get in contact with you regarding natural disasters and gives family and friends a way to contact you in the case of emergencies.
I always register with STEP before I travel anywhere and definitely feel a little safer knowing that the local embassy knows I’m in that country in case of disaster. They actually do contact you as well. I was in Hamburg, Germany once when some riots were going on and I got an email from the US government notifying me of areas to avoid.
2. Know the emergency telephone numbers
Did you know that different countries have different emergency numbers? Maybe I’m the only idiot who didn’t realize this when I first traveled abroad. Anyway, in Costa Rica the emergency number is the same as the US, 9-1-1. In an emergency, you can call 9-1-1 and someone will help you out.
3. Buy travel insurance
I know buying travel insurance is an added expense to your trip that you probably don’t want to take on, but it is worth it. You really never know what is going to happen. Besides regular emergencies, you have to remember you are in a foreign country which your body is not used to. You can read our full post about travel insurance and the time I had a scary allergic reaction right after moving to Costa Rica, here.
We always use Wold Nomads for travel insurance because they cover pretty much everything and we’ve had really good experiences with them.
4. Copy your passport
Please please bring at least one color copy of your passport with you while traveling in Costa Rica. Keep this copy in a safe spot separate from your passport. It is good to have a separate copy of your passport because if something happens and you need to leave suddenly you will at least hopefully have the copy or your original passport with you. Also, if the original gets lost or stolen you will have a backup.
Natural Disasters in Costa Rica – While Visiting
- Always know the name of the place you are
Because there are no addresses in Costa Rica you can’t just state the address you are at if you need to call the police. Instead, it is best to know the name of the place you are. If you are on the street, you will need to try to explain where you are using landmarks. If you are stuck, ask somebody nearby for help.
2. Be aware of your surroundings
It’s always good to keep an eye out in any situation. Sometimes you may be the first person to notice that something is a bit “off” with the environment around you.
3. Keep your cell phone charged
You always want the option of being able to call for help during natural disasters in Costa Rica. It is really important to keep your phone charged and topped up with minutes.
Pro tip: If your phone is unlocked for international usage you can be a prepaid SIM card for a few dollars at the Kolbi stand at the airport or at any Kolbi store in the country. You can top it up with more minutes at any mini market or grocery store in the country.
If you rent a car through our website with Adobe (our favorite rental car company in Costa Rica) you will get a free cell phone to use for local calls, a second driver for free, plus a 10% discount. You can find out more info here.
If you bring your USB charger with you, almost all rental cars from Adobe have a plugin so can charge your phone in the car with the USB.
4. Always have a source of GPS
Having a source of GPS is important for if you get stranded somewhere (like we did during Tropical Storm Nate). Without GPS on our phones, I don’t know how we would have ever made it home.
If your phone is unlocked you can use that for GPS with your prepaid account from Kolbi. We love the free app Waze for getting around here. Your other option is to rent a GPS unit. With Adobe, you can rent a GPS for $9 a day.
Natural Disasters in Costa Rica – During A Crisis
- Check Facebook pages
Thomas recently found two great pages on Facebook for staying up to date on road conditions and natural disasters in the country. They were super helpful when we tried to get back home after Tropical Storm Nate and with the recent earthquake. The first page is called OVSICORI-UNA. This page will keep you u to date on all seismic activity in the area.The other page is MOPT. This page is run by the Ministry of Public Works. This will help you stay aware of all current road conditions.
2. State that you don’t speak Spanish
If you are in a high-stress situation it is important to state that your Spanish is not the best (unless it is great). This way you can hopefully find someone who speaks English that can help you to stay up to date with what is going on.
3. Contact the US Embassy
Obviously, this only applies to if you are a US citizen. If not, you should contact the embassy in Costa Rica of whichever country you are a citizen of.
The embassy can direct you to nearby shelters, notify your family that you are safe, help you get to a hospital etc.
4. Mark yourself safe on Facebook
On Facebook, you can now mark yourself safe after crises. This is great because all of your family and friends can see that you are OK without you having to contact each one individually. You can find out more about how to do it here.
5. Notify your loved ones
If you have the possibility, it is best to notify your family as soon as you can that you are OK. I like to have one person to contact who can the pass the message on to the rest of my family. That way I can work on resolving whatever situation I am in and do not have to worry about contacting every person individually.
Natural Disasters in Costa Rica – Possible Disasters
Earthquakes: Earthquakes are pretty common here in Costa Rica. They seem to usually come around the change of seasons (rainy season to dry season, dry season to rainy season). Most buildings in Costa Rica are built with earthquakes in mind.
During an earthquake, your first reaction might be to flee, but in actuality, you should stay where you are. The best thing to do if you are inside is to get in a door frame or crawl under a stable surface like a table. In most instances, the dangerous part of earthquakes is going to be things falling on you. By being in a stable doorframe or under another stable surface you are less likely to get hit by falling objects.
I’m not going to lie, earthquakes freak me the hell out, but usually, they are just a little shake and only last a few seconds.
Volcanic Eruptions: There are currently three active volcanoes in Costa Rica. Two of these (Poas and Turrialba) are located close to the capital San Jose. The other active volcano is Rincon de la Vieja in Guanacaste. There have not been any recent major eruptions, but all three are frequently spewing ash. The cover picture of this article is of Turrialba.
At many places near these volcanos, you will be asked to park your car facing out so if needed you can easily hop in your car and evacuate.
Tropical storms/ hurricanes: In the past, this wasn’t something you really had to worry about, but in recent years there have been more storm threats. In 2016 Costa Rica got hit by Hurricane Otto, the country’s first ever real hurricane. In 2017 there was Tropical Storm Nate. Costa Rica is designed to handle a lot of rain, but these two storms brought flooding, landslides, downed trees etc.
Tsunamis: After an earthquake near the coast or in the ocean there is usually a tsunami warning put into place. Don’t take this lightly. It is best to get away from the coast and seek higher ground.
If you are near the coast and experience an earthquake just ask at your hotel after if there is a tsunami warning.
OK, I hope I haven’t completely scared you off from visiting Costa Rica. The chances of you experiencing any devastating natural disasters in Costa Rica are pretty slim. You also have to remember that this is the normal way of life for people here and they survive just fine.
If you have any questions about natural disasters in Costa Rica just leave them in the comment section below and we will be happy to help you out.
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